In Ireland, prison libraries are a recognised group within the Library Association of Ireland (LAI) and receive their funding through the Local County Council (Development Plan for Dublin City Public Libraries 2012-16, p. 14). In this context, a prison library is defined as a service ‘provided in partnership with the relevant local authorities. Prison officers have a key role in facilitating the availability of services in the evening and at weekends. The library service tries to reflect the material available in the wider community, including books available in languages other than English, audio books and easy reader materials’ (Irish Prison Library Service, Para. 1). An understanding of this service is essential to how we ascertain the information needs of both the employees and patrons within the prison library service. However, despite the recognition that prison libraries receive from the LAI and the important contribution they make to the prison service, there is a distinct lack of scholarly research concerning the prison library service in Ireland. As a result, there is very little factual data available concerning the operation of prison libraries or how librarians engage with this unique working environment.
Research on the Scandinavian Prison System reveals that prisoners generally had lower educational attainments, no significant work experience, reading or learning difficulties and had suffered from some form of substance abuse (Ljodal & Ra, 2011). The Penal Reform Trust UK states that ‘half (51%) of people entering prison were assessed as having literacy skills expected of an 11 year old’ (Prison: The Facts, Bromley Briefings Summer 2016, http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk). The ability to obtain employment post-imprisonment is significantly hindered by low literacy levels. Recent statistics from the UK reveal that unemployment among prisoners directly affected their likelihood of re-offending. See chart below:
(Prison Reform Trust UK, Summer, 2016: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk)
Prison libraries, therefore, play a vital role in promoting prisoners education and learning. Inclusive training programmes and literacy groups have tackled development needs and promoted a positive reading culture. Germany and Scandinavia provide some of the most progressive library services in Europe (Peschers & Patterson, 2011 & Ljodal & Ra, 2011).
Irish Prison Libraries
Recent studies acknowledge that there should be little differences between a ‘public and prison library service’ (Conrad, 2012, p. 414). As previously outlined, Irish prison libraries seek to provide a service similar to that of public libraries (Irish Prison Library Service, Para. 1). One existing challenge within Irish prison libraries is the inadequate level of technological resources available. In 2015, the Cloverhill Visiting Committee stated that despite the ‘wide variety of books… it would be very beneficial to introduce modern technology, that can offer a higher quality of education and a better understanding of learning to prisoners that may have impairments such as deafness and other physical difficulties’ (Report of the Prison Visiting Committee, Cloverhill, 2015, p. 6). The provision of such a service would provide additional supports for prisoners with learning difficulties or those with specific information needs. It is accepted that ‘the internet- is an important resource in modern life… Public libraries provide electronic catalogs and computers for searching the Internet as part of their core services’ (Ljodal & Ra, 2011). However, Irish Prison libraries provide an invaluable service to the prisoner community. In recent years, Prison Visiting Committees acknowledged the diverse range of literature available in the country’s prisons (Reports of the Prison Visiting Committee Mountjoy, 2015; Arbour Hill, 2015; Cloverhill 2015; Wheatfield 2015). In Mountjoy, books were seen as a necessary learning aid for prisoners and these items should made be available as part of the rehabilitation process (Report of Prison Visiting Committee Mountjoy, 2014, p. 8).
To date, there is little research available on Irish prison libraries and prisoners’ information needs. Each prisoner has a unique and individual need or requirement and educational training/work experience in the prison library service would be immense benefit to prisoners during their sentences. Future research could assess the information needs of prisoners and how the library service contributes to the education and training of prisoners Ireland.
Bowe, C., (2011) Trends in UK Prison Libraries, Library Trends, 59(3): 427-445. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.ucd.idm.oclc.org/article/420680/pdf
Conrad, S. (2012) ‘Collection Development and Circulation Policies in Prison Libraries: An Exploratory Survey of Librarians in US Correctional Institutions’, The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 84 (4), 407-27. Retrieved 21 Sept. 2016, http://www.jstor.org.elib.tcd.ie/stable/pdf/10.1086/667435.pdf
Cramard, O. (2011) ‘The Long Development of Prison Libraries in France’ Library Trends, 59 (3) 544-562. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420687/pdf
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Hayes, M. & Cassidy, A. (2012) Development Plan for Dublin City Public Libraries 2012-16, 1-54. DOI: https://www.dublincity.ie/sites/default/files/content/RecreationandCulture/libraries/About%20Us/Documents/Development-Plan-for-Dublin-City-Public-Libraries.pdf
Huffman, R.D. (1976) Robert Palmer, Prison Librarian: Guys tell me: “If I couldn’t read, I’d go bugs”, American Libraries, 7 (6), 351-351. DOI: http://www.jstor.org.elib.tcd.ie/stable/pdf/25620717.pdf
Irish Prison Library Service, 2016, http://www.irishprisons.ie/index.php/prisoner-services/library-services/, Retrieved, 27 October 2016.
Johnson, P. (2009), Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management, Chicago: American Library Association.
Lehmann, V. (2011) ‘Challenges and Accomplishments in US Prison Libraries’ Library Trends 59 (3) 490-508. DOI http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420684/pdf
Ljodal, H.J., & Ra, E., (2011)’Prison Libraries the Scandinavian way: An Overview of the Development and Operation of Prison Library Service’ Library Trends, 59 (3), 473-489. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420683/pdf
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Reports of the Visiting Committees to Arbour Hill, Cloverhill, Dochas, Mountjoy and Wheatfield, 2014-5. Retrieved 29 Sept. 2016,
Irish Prison Library Service: http://www.irishprisons.ie/index.php/prisoner-services/library-services/
Penal Reform Trust Ireland: http://www.iprt.ie/
Renal Reform Trust UK: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/
About the Author
Anne Marie McInerney is presently studying for a MLIS at UCD 2016-17. She completed a PhD in Modern Irish History entitled ‘Internment of the Anti-Treaty IRA 1922-24’, in Trinity College Dublin in 2015. Anne Marie previously worked as both a researcher and a teaching assistant at Trinity College Dublin. She is presently employed by Dublin City Public Libraries. Her major research interests include the Irish Revolution 1916-1923, penal history, prison reform and civil wars.